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Facilitating Equitable Class Discussions Within the Multicultural Classroom

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Frequently, however, linguistically and culturally diverse students remain passive participants in whole-class discussions for varied reasons, including insecurity about their listening comprehension, pronunciation, word choice, and culturally appropriate interactional strategies.


The posting below looks at ways of encouraging and supporting class discussions with linguistically and culturally diverse students. It is from the section, Resource A, Facilitating Equitable Class Discussions Within the Multicultural Classroom, in Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Margery B. Ginsberg. A joint publication in The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series, The Jossey-Bass Education Series, and The Jossey-Bass Social and Behavioral Sciences. Published by Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741. . Copyright 1995 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Margery B. Ginsberg. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis


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Resource A


Topically focused class discussions potentially offer English learners rich exposure to new vocabulary and usage in their second language, along with opportunities to interact in a variety of academic situations - reporting information, summarizing, synthesizing, and debating. Frequently, however, linguistically and culturally diverse students remain passive participants in whole-class discussions for varied reasons, including insecurity about their listening comprehension, pronunciation, word choice, and culturally appropriate interactional strategies. Instructors may employ the following strategies to lead carefully orchestrated class discussions that provide language-promoting assistance and facilitate more active participation for English learners:

1. Create a supportive classroom environment for less confident English users by encouraging all students to talk in turn, to listen actively while others talk, and to offer assistance rather than impatience and intolerance for classmates who need help in understanding or responding.

2. Show your students that you expect them all to participate in oral activities by consistently inviting every member of the class to participate.

3. Allow students to first share and rehearse their responses to a key question or comments on a topic with a partner to increase learning and ESL student confidence and motivation to contribute to a unified class discussion.

4. Be sensitive to the linguistic and conceptual demands of discussion questions and activities. Don't inhibit participation by pushing students to communicate too far beyond their current level of English proficiency.

5. The easiest content for less proficient English users to handle is often related to their everyday lives and activities. Make a concerted effort to build in opportunities for language minority students to share information about their cultures, communities, families, and special interests.

6. Pair less proficient English users with a sensitive classmate who can ideally clarify concepts, vocabulary, and instructions in the primary language and also coach the classmate in responding.

7. Attempt to activate students' relevant background knowledge on topics, and provide through "schema"-building activities (e.g., brainstorming, mapping, advance organizers) requisite linguistic, conceptual, and cultural information that would otherwise prevent them from active learning and participation.

8. Move purposefully around the room to enable as many students as possible to enjoy having close proximity to the teacher, which should also encourage students to remain more alert and willing to ask and answer questions.

9. Do not constantly pose questions to the group at large, allowing a minority of more confident or impulsive students to dominate the discussion.

10. Ask a question before naming the respondent to encourage active learning by allowing all students to "attend" and decide how they would answer.

11. Draw in less confident students by asking them to respond to an open-ended question after they have heard a variety of responses from their classmates.

12. Call on English learners to answer not only safe yes/no questions but also more challenging, open-ended questions that provide opportunities for thoughtful and extended usage of their second language.

13. Increase wait time (3-9 seconds) after asking a question to allow adequate time for the student to successfully process the question and formulate a thoughtful response.

14. When calling on a specific ESL student, it often helps to first pose the question and make eye contact with the student while stating his/her name; then pause a few seconds and restate the question verbatim.

15. Discourage classmates from blurting out responses and intimidating less confident English users from taking risks with their second language.

16. Do not interrupt a students' thought processes after asking an initial question by immediately posing one or more follow-up questions; these tandem questions confuse rather than assist English learners who may not realize that the teacher is actually rephrasing the same question.

17. Encourage students to talk through nonverbal means, such as waiting patiently, smiling, and nodding in approval.

18. Make any corrections indirectly by mirroring in correct form what the student has said. For example, suppose a student says, "Majority immigrants San Francisco from Pacific Rim." You can repeat, "That is correct. A majority of the immigrants in San Francisco come from the Pacific Rim."

19. Use these conversational features regularly and in so doing model for your students how to use them in class discussions, lectures, and small-group work:

confirmation checks Is this what you are saying? So you believe that . . . clarification requests Will you explain your point so that I can be sure I understand? Could you give me an example of that? comprehension checks Is my use of language understandable to you? interrupting Excuse me, but . . . Sorry for interrupting, but . . .

Source: Kinsella, 1993, p. 16. Used by permission.